My husband and I have been married for close to eight years, and up until our son turned 2, our attendance record at temple had been pitiful at best. But over the past six months, we’ve all been attending monthly Tot Shabbat services at a local temple, and we really like it there. The people are warm, the rabbi is great, and the programming so far seems to meet our needs. On more than one occasion, we’ve been given a nudge to consider joining, but it was only recently that I finally decided to request a membership info packet. I was all set to fill out the forms, send in my check, and call it a day, but then I realized that becoming a member of a temple carries a lot more weight than simply dealing with paperwork.
It got me thinking about the first time I decided to join a gym. I knew back then that I wasn’t just signing up to pay a monthly fee–I was making a real, actual commitment to go. Regularly. More so than that, I was making a commitment to my body, which meant eating right, getting more sleep, and embracing healthier habits. It really was a lifestyle change, not just a membership that came with a glossy card.
When I think about joining a temple, I’m faced with a similar thought process. To me, joining a temple is more than just having a random piece of paper lying around confirming my membership. I’m already committed to a Jewish lifestyle, but there’s one aspect I’ve yet to commit to, and that’s my local community.
Though I believe in community service, I’m not about to win any awards in that area. I do the best I can by occasionally working with other local moms to plan kid-friendly, Jewish-themed events, but those happen 4-5 times a year if that.
It’s not that community service isn’t important to me; it’s that I don’t have a lot of time and, admittedly, a ton of energy. I also really value family time and personal time, both of which I don’t get nearly enough of during the week. If I become a member of a temple, it likely means feeling the pressure to get more involved, even if that pressure comes more so from me than anyone else. And to me, joining also means upping the ante by going to temple more often– dare I even say weekly?
Now I have a toddler, so it’s not like I currently spend my Saturday mornings sleeping in, but there’s still something to be said about our present routine, which usually involves a leisurely breakfast, extensive book reading on the couch, and playtime in our pajamas. I don’t know if that’s something I’m ready to give up or even alter in order to attend weekly services.
But then I think about the flip side. Wouldn’t it be nice to come to Saturday morning services and be greeted by dozens of friendly faces–people who actually know my name? Wouldn’t it be great to join a committee and actually help make an impact on my community?
Growing up, the temple my family attended was a place where I felt welcome and comfortable. And I had a nice number of temple friends–other kids who I socialized with after (and, okay, sometimes during) services and whose houses I’d play at on Saturday afternoons. When I think back on my childhood, I remember spending pretty much every Saturday morning at temple, and while I’m sure I sometimes grumbled about going, I’m also really glad I did.
So yes, when it comes to joining my local temple, maybe I’m not quite ready to make the commitment my parents did when they starting taking me. I don’t think I’ll be attending services every week, and I probably won’t be signing up for any committees anytime soon. But what I do know is that I’m making a promise to myself, and my son, that we’re going to give this whole community thing a try, even if it sometimes means slapping on clothing when I’d rather be lounging in PJs at home. Because as much as I’m doing my best to give my child the same strong Jewish background I’m fortunate enough to have, I know that ultimately, it’s not something I can do alone.
Incidentally, that initial gym membership wound up being a great move. I started going 3-4 times a week and eventually got into good enough shape to train for a marathon. Of course, back then I had a lot more time on my hands, but I’m hoping this temple membership will result in a similar pattern.